Marketing isn't for everyone.....or, is it?

In support of Burwell Consultants, William M. Burwell writes articles sharing his experience in four keystone practice areas: Design; Marketing, Firm Management and Project Management.  Check him out at

Marketing Post 4.10

"We are soooo busy!" - "I don't have that kind of money." - "There is no one here that can write." - "We have plans to get our marketing started."

Excuses - we've heard them all and likely said them all.  But you know, at the end of the day, it's what makes the world go around.  I have friends that started their firms a decade ago and are now booming, and I have others that did the same but are struggling between boom and bust cycles unable to sustain a steady work flow.  What's the difference?  It may be that one principal made marketing a priority from the beginning and the other did not.  It may be that one started in a down cycle with nothing else to do but market, and the other started in an up cycle where it appeared they did not need to market.  Good habits are hard to start and bad habits are hard to break.

In a small to medium firm, the principals have to wear a lot of hats and execute most of their implied responsibilities fairly well. The principals have to take ownership of Design, Marketing, Project Management, and Firm Management.  These key elements of all practices insure the work comes in, the work is well designed and well delivered and that the firm grows into a solid platform for this process.  Does it all begin with marketing?  Certainly not - it always begins with talent.  But then, marketing comes into play.  That college degree will provide you skills that allow you to use your talent in extraordinary ways - but if the world is not aware of that talent, you may not have anything to do. Unfortunately college may not have provided a foundation in business or operations.  Almost to the opposite, colleges often position the designer to believe that if they simply design the better mousetrap, the world will beat a path to your door.  This may well apply to mousetraps, but there are hundreds and hundreds of design firms out there competing for business, a significant number of choices for any customer in any area of design.  

What is a young practitioner to do?  The adages abound - "Market when the market is up." - "My plan - see the people." - "If I don't shamelessly self-promote, who will?" - "Never eat lunch alone." - "Get on as many dance cards as possible."

A real difference between firms is action taken.  Some firms do, some firms don't.  Action is a key to success, and I'm not the first one to say this.  One other thing you're going to need is a plan.  In simple terms if you want to move your firm north - you need a plan, or you may end up heading south.  Read up on it, make a plan, bounce it off your staff and understand that the end game is to get work.  Marketing will position your firm.  Public Relations may gain 3rd party recognition for you.  Business Development leverages marketing and PR into personal contacts and relationships.  Sales closes the deal.

The reason this is important is clarity and focus.   Marketing is NOT Sales.  Business Development is NOT Marketing.  PR is NOT Business Development.  There is an order and sequence for the system to work.  Each element supports the next.  Also, since business cycles, your plan must run consistently over a period of time to be successful.  So create a plan and make it happen.  Take it a year at a time, make a big bold plan and check your progress quarterly.  Set goals and measure results.

The good news is that Social Media provides multiple platforms that simply take thought and time to generate a considerable amount of marketing without a lot of expense.  Create a mobile friendly website.  Invest your time in LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and others that can penetrate the in-box of your potential clients and contacts.  If it is still overwhelming, give me a call and we can talk about it.  I've got a lot of ideas.

William M. Burwell is a retired Architect and Interior Designer whose career focused on corporate interior architecture in sole proprietorships, and partnerships from 9 to 120 staff.  Bill retired in 2014 and began a Small Firm Marketing and Management Consulting firm to share the wisdom and experience of those 45 years.   He graduated from the University of Houston College of Architecture in 1971 and now serves the College on the Dean's Committee on Excellence.